At a conference a few years ago I had a conversation with a pastor about hiring staff. He was proud of the fact that he “only hired from within.” I asked if he had been “home grown” and he said no, but he seemed clearly committed to this paradigm. After a bit of conversation he acknowledged there could be a time when an external hire would be necessary, but at this point he couldn’t imagine a situation where his church would need to look outside for the right person.

He had a three-point rationale for his commitment:

  • Hiring from within ensured “fit” to the church culture and agreement with ministry philosophy.
  • Hiring from within helped keep costs down by paying less for the role and no search fees.
  • Hiring from within empowered authentic leadership development as it provides opportunities for the people of the church to develop their leadership capacity.

I shared with him that I myself was a beneficiary of his philosophy. I was initially hired out of a volunteer role, and I am incredibly grateful for it. But, is it appropriate in every circumstance?

What factors need to be present for “hiring from within” to make sense?

Factor 1: A healthy and vital culture. I whole-heartedly agree that culture fit is an essential piece of the hiring puzzle, but are you certain your church culture is healthy? If your culture is unhealthy AND you are only drawing new staff from an unhealthy pool, you risk perpetuating dysfunction. Healthy leaders from the outside may bring insight, experience or a fresh approach that helps effectively address challenges. Also, fresh, objective eyes could help increase awareness of issues for the whole team.

Factor 2: Count the Cost. How much risk can you afford? An internal hire may seem less costly on the front end, but an argument could be made that it is more costly. Training time and equipping costs, the cost of mistakes made on the learning curve, and the loss of momentum in the ministry due to inexperienced leadership are all costs associated with hiring out of the congregation. Not to mention there is a huge relational cost to be paid if an internal hire goes south. Sometimes the old adage is true: “You get what you pay for.”

Factor 3: How needy are you? In ideal circumstances, an inexperienced leader may work out fine, but a ministry that is struggling, broken or challenged may benefit from an experienced leader who will recognize issues, assess potential and craft a plan forward more quickly than someone who is still finding their “sea legs” in ministry leadership. Experienced leaders will likely have more tools in their toolbox, more credibility and will be able to leverage past experience to develop solutions more quickly.

Factor 4: Available leadership development resources. Over the years I have had numerous conversations with people who made a shift into vocational ministry. As a high level volunteer they loved to serve, served faithfully and imagined how wonderful it would be to work in a church. Sadly, they describe the reality more like stepping into a boat, being pushed off from shore without a paddle and encouraged to have a great trip. Inexperienced leaders need and deserve intentional development. Do you have resources in place to ensure inexperienced leaders are effectively equipped for their call? Giving someone an opportunity to try is not the same as leadership development.

Hiring out of the congregation can be a great option, but careful, honest consideration should be given to the benefits and potential costs before making a decision. The implications for this important decision can have long-range effects on ministry momentum, team dynamics and the individual’s spiritual development.